The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has started to gradually decommission its fleet of J-7 fighter jets and replace them with more advanced, next generation ones, recent media reports revealed.
J-7 fighter jets attached to an aviation brigade affiliated with the PLA Western Theater Command Air Force recently conducted a series of combat-oriented exercises, and these exercises were the curtain call performance of the J-7s in this particular brigade, as the unit will receive new aircraft to replace them soon, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Thursday.
In the exercises, a JJ-7, a trainer variation of the J-7 played the role of the enemy and two J-7s took off to intercept it, the report said.
As the main force in China’s second-generation fighter jet fleet and the country’s most experienced fighter jet currently still in service, the J-7 has a ceiling of more than 20,000 meters and a top speed of Mach two, making it the most high-reaching and fastest aircraft from the 1960s to the 1990s of the PLA and the absolute main force in fighting for aerial superiority, CCTV said.
Even today, it can integrate with third generation fighter jets and early warning aircraft to play unique roles in combat, CCTV reported, noting that the J-7 also trained pilot cadets to fly more advanced fighter jets.
The J-7 is a classic second-generation fighter jet that significantly contributed to safeguarding China’s airspace, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.
China also ran a lot of modifications and upgrades on the J-7, gaining experiences in the process, and eventually developed variations like the JL-9 trainer jet, Wei said, noting that the J-7 also saw many export deals.
The PLA Air Force is now commissioning third-generation fighter jets in large numbers, including the J-10, J-11 and J-16, with fourth-generation fighter jet the J-20 also entering service, and it was only a matter of time before the outdated second-generation J-7 retires, analysts said.
Third-generation fighter jets like the J-10 perform better in both aerial combat and land attack, as their radar capability and maneuverability are superior to the J-7 in all fronts, Wei said.
On March 5, China announced it would increase its defense budget by 6.8 percent in 2021, and one of the announced uses of the increased expenditure is to accelerate the modernization of weapons and equipment. Replacing J-7s with newer fighter jets will be a perfect example, analysts said.